JEFF GOLDBLUM began our conversation by admiring my shoes. 'What nice shoes. Look at those nice shoes.' And it wasn't long before he got them off.
He was talking about playing the piano in Earth Girls Are Easy when his concentration wandered. 'Yes, that's me playing, that's my song. I wrote that song. And they get a little bit of my hands in . . . You have very nice hands. Do you paint or anything? Do people comment on your hands? Truly, I'm not being . . . you have beautiful fingernails, the shape of your fingernails is beautiful, don't you think? Although are your toenails red? Let me see them. Just quickly. OK, from a distance, but not too quickly then. Oh, so you have beautiful feet. Beautiful feet and I thought so because I could tell by your hands. No, it's true. But sometimes would you paint them red? It can be nice . . .'
Getting a person to remove their footwear on a hot, damp day is no small achievement, but Jeff Goldblum could charm the shirt off your back (give him 15 minutes longer). It's not just that he's devilishly attractive (the goggle-eyed, loopy body he dangled in The Big Chill and The Tall Guy is now worked on and bronzed and beautifully tailored). It's the way he catches you with those lizard-eyes, hooks you with a half-smile of those full lips and seduces you with his deep creaky voice. It's been said that he thrashes his limbs about, but it's his sentences that do the acrobatics. When the critic Pauline Kael saw him in The Fly, she wrote that he delivered his lines 'as if queries were piling up in his head'. And in conversation, you want to pile in after them.
Kael also described him as a 'Wagnerian superlover'. This was his last interview in a day of press calls: was there a subject he was sick of? 'I'd be interested in any question that interests you,' the superlover said, flicking up his eye-lids. 'I'm interested in you.'
Goldblum was in London, lounging on a banquette at the Dorchester Hotel to promote his new movie, Jurassic Park. He plays Ian Malcolm, the black-clad mathematician who, like many of Goldblum's characters (the goofball in The Tall Guy, the serial killer in Deep Cover, the smug weirdo in the Holsten Pils ads), has all the best quips ('Married?' asks someone. 'Occasionally' he replies). He looks like another sardonic outsider, but Goldblum insists he's a more conventional hero. 'He intimates things about himself that imply that he already knew some of the lessons that Sam Neil's character learns,' he says earnestly, '- about kids, you know, he's contacted the child within himself, has a good relation with his own children, loves kids. He accommodates in a very mature and healthy way the contradictions in life.'
The book and the screenplay portrayed Malcolm as a coward, but Goldblum wasn't going to have any of that either. 'In the T-Rex attack, they had him run away from the dinosaurs, like the other guy who gets eaten, and I said 'Please Steven' and we cooked up this other version where I get to be heroic, you know? I thought if I was going to run, that's a terrible thing to do. You're going to want to see me die. I'm going to want to see me die.'
Most strikingly, though, Malcolm is a wicked flirt who explains the theory of Chaos to Laura Dern (Goldblum's date in real life) by dropping water on her hand and watching it move - closely. So that's where he got it from. He kept a fly in a plastic bag when he was making The Fly. He spent a weekend with a drug-dealer before filming Deep Cover. And he flirts with the limbs of strangers for Jurassic Park. 'Sometimes I'm playing around, behaving in a certain way,' he says smiling. 'I don't mistreat anybody if that's what it calls for and when I go home I'm not psychotic. But I think they've tested it scientifically - if you create something in the acting out of something imaginary, your body won't know whether it's real or not. It's serious, but it's play. That's the joke.'
'Play' and 'imaginary truth' crop up a lot with Goldblum. He's a Californian now after all (though he prefers to call himself a 'world citizen'). He was born in Pittsburgh and trained at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. But in 1974, after Robert Altman gave him his first film roles in California Split and Nashville, he moved to Los Angeles where he's lived, in a house in the hills, ever since. 'I like house-living,' he says. 'My house is nothing spectacular, but for me it's delicious and I'm fixing it up and planting some flowers and things and I want to get it just right.'
The East coast and the West coast jostle for position in Goldblum's psyche. There's the 'child inside' bit for one thing and, when he's bored, he strings adverbs out like wet washing: 'I think life is the exercise that can be a yogic practice, if you do it lovingly, authentically, honestly,' he says. Or: 'In 10 years time, I hope I'm healthy - physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually.'
But he can be sharp too. Here he is on views: 'Sometimes a view can be a little grotesque. It's like a fast car. It's like 'hey piss on everybody else, better luck next time suckers, I'm the king.' ' And he can be quirky: 'I like to listen to the radio. I have records and tapes and things and I don't care to put them on because I know what's coming. I don't like to know what's coming. I like to be surprised.'
And he can be just plain barking. Take the description of how he met Steven Spielberg: 'I have my Ford Bronco and I drive to Universal Studios and I go up to the gate and I say 'Hello, It's Jeff Goldblum. I've come to see Steven Spielberg,' and they say, 'Yes, how are you, nice to see you again, der-der-der-der . . .' and I say, 'How do I get there?' and they say, 'Well, here's the map and follow the blue line around the thing'; so you go round and then it's 'Hello'. Or no, I park first and then it's 'Hello', 'Hiya Jeff, nice to see ya, der-der-der-der . . .' That simple.'
Woody Allen would be at home in this anecdote - the same hunching shoulders and stuttery Is - but Goldblum is trying to move out. He's currently working on a film called Lush Life, in which he plays an Armenian jazz musician hanging out in New York. 'I have a certain way of talking,' he says in a husky, throaty Marlon Brando drawl. 'It's not like (pastiche of self) 'um eh, like, um er, excuse me.' (Drawling) It's a little different from me. It's jazzy.'
He thinks the Armenian, like his characters in Deep Cover and Jurassic Park, are 'less goofy or jerky' than his previous roles, 'more accessible, human, you know, relaxed'. Some might disagree. Some might like the air-heads and the brain-boxes. But, too bad, he's trying to change his manner to suit.
'You know, it's easy for me to get over-excited actually,' he says over- excitedly. 'Before a day's filming I can lose sleep; I can really be thinking about it, dreaming about it; I can kind of keep testing myself to see if it's there. I get really riled up.
'So, this time, they give you a schedule for the whole movie and a call-sheet the night before of what you're going to do the next day? And always before I'd look and say, 'Oh well, this big scene is coming up, that's in three weeks, that's OK.' Or 'Oh jee, we're doing that part first - how's that going to affect that part', and I lose sleep and then finally when I get to the set I'm exhausted. So, this time I prepared it - I mean, it wasn't like I was tossing it off - and then I made myself not look at the call-sheet. I mean, at all. So, I'd come to the set and it would be like a little game for me, a little mystery for me. They'd set out my clothes and I'd go 'Oh?' and they'd lead me to the set and I'd go 'Oh yes?' and then I'd see the other actor getting made up and I'd go, 'Oh, so you're here are you?' And even then I'd try not to catch on.'
He starts grinning halfway through this story, which gets faster and faster - a tale about the importance of calm told like a racing report. At the end of it a great laugh erupts. And then immediately, he's earnest again. 'I think I'm getting better,' he says, nodding his head. 'I'm liking my work more these days, the parts I'm getting and the way I'm doing them. I think I'm getting better.'
There's a trick he's particularly proud of, which he uses to teach a drama class in north Hollywood. 'A nice little device in acting is to get your attention off yourself and on to the person you're with,' he explains, moving his tanned body a little closer. 'You're not trying to perform, but you're getting involved in the situation by extroverting your attention to the other person - an impulsive, intuitive, instinctive, reflective exchange - like in real life.'
Apparently, it really works. Later, he said, 'How old are you?' and then 'I'm 40',E thoughtfully, as if weighing up the possibilities. And for a moment there, I could have sworn he meant it.
(Photograph THER write erroromitted)
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